The Only Woman in the Room

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 07 Feb 2019

Member Reviews

I really wanted to like this book but couldn't seem to get into it.  Hedy Lamarr led a fascinating life but it wasn't told well in this book.  The writing was slow and I felt the author didn't do her story credit.

Thanks to Sourcebooks Landmark and NetGalley for the ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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In a world where women are mere fixtures in the lives of men, Hedy Lamarr dreams of something more. After fleeing from her abusive Nazi husband, Hedy remakes herself and becomes a movie legend. But she longs for something else, and she turns to science. Finding her calling to help bring down the Nazi's she invents, but is not listened to. 


I enjoyed this book.
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Before I found this book, all I knew of Hedy Lamarr was that she was an amazing beauty, a Hollywood star, and had numerous marriages.  When I saw the book description mentioned she was a scientist as well, I knew I wanted to read this.  I also knew that the author, Marie Benedict, had a reputation for telling stories that bring to light unrecognized contributions made by women.  Double winner for me.
A few days after the book was launched, I was able to attend a lecture given by the author.  Fortunately or unfortunately, Ms. Benedict revealed a great deal of the story in her talk.  Fortunately, because it inspired me to really get into the book.  Unfortunately, because it left me with the impression of so much more content than it provided.  I would like to have heard more about her life with her first marriage, and more also about the entire process of the invention.  I don’t often wish an author to have added more pages to their work, but in this case, I would have been happy to see some more.

The expectation that there would be more is, of course, entirely my doing.  The author did a great job telling the story, and I can’t help but wonder what might have been had the invention been adopted by the US military when it was put before them.   

I would certainly read more of the author’s work.   I have Carnegie’s Maid already on my TBR pile.  

Thanks to NetGallery, the publisher and author for a complimentary copy of this book.
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This was such an amazing book and far exceeded my expectations! Hedy Lamarr certainly led a fascinating life full of intrigue, romance, violence, intelligence, and much more. What an amazing woman to have escaped an abusive situation and then to have jump started her career in Hollywood, where she not only became a household name, but she was also an self-taught inventor. From what I know, the last few years of her life were rather sad and that is too bad because she seemed to be an extraordinary woman and this book retold her story beautifully.

Thank you to NetGalley and SOURCEBOOKS Landmark for this eARC!
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When Hedy Kiesler began dating Fritz Mandl, the wealthiest pre-WW2 Austrian , she hoped that marriage would protect her family from the growing anti-Semitic sentiment growing in Austria. Fritz Mandl, although Jewish like Hedy, was valued by the Germans as a munitions manufacturer therefore was designated an honorary Aryan. However, when it becomes increasingly clear that Fritz could not shelter her family, Hedy makes plans to escape her controlling husband. 

This is the story how Hedy Kiesler became the famousHollywood actress, Hedy Lamarr. It is also a little known story of how this intelligent young woman, guilt-ridden for not informing the United States of military secrets she gleaned from the various parties her husband hosted with political and military leaders turns to science as an inventor hoping to develop something that would help the Allies fight the Axis powers, if anyone would believe in her.

Although what I read I enjoyed, I wish the author would have provide more depth. This book was appeared to be more an outline one would provide to publishers in prospect. This novel needed more "meat on its bones."
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This is a well written and researched fictionalized historical narrative  of the life of Hedy Lamarr. Born Hedwig Keisler, she was a young glamorous Jewish 19 year old actress starring in a theater production in Vienna when she met Friedrich Mandl, a powerful munitions dealer known as the ‘Merchant of Death’. Mandl  is obsessed with Hedy and pursues her fanatically. Her parents pressure her into a marriage with Mandl, believing the union will offer them protection in the rising anti semitic, progressively pro Nazi climate in Austria. Early on in their marriage Mandl realizes Hedy is far from being a beautiful woman with a vacuous mind. She is  quite intelligent and is useful in his business transactions. Hedy becomes  privy to Mandls’ shady business dealings, often with important political figures of the time such as Mussolini and Hitler. Mandl is also a violent, controlling and abusive husband. Hedy eventually escapes the marriage and emigrated to Hollywood. The book glosses over her  successful Hollywood career, choosing to concentrate on her lesser known  important contributions in the field of wireless communications. Hedy is determined to make a positive contribution towards the Allies winning WW ll. I found it to be truly inspiring and eye opening  account into the behind the scenes story of her life.
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RATING: 3 STARS
(Review Not on Blog)

I love old Hollywood so have been aware of Hedy Lamarr for a long time, but didn't know she was such a fascinating woman. Just before I read this novel, I watched a documentary on Lamarr specifically touching on her scientific background. I was so excited to see there was going to be a fictionalized biography coming out by an author that blew me away with The Other Einstein. However, I found the novel so slow that I put it down a lot. With a "character" as exciting as Lamarr I think I had too high of expectations. It was an okay novel, that I was able to finish, but at times I did think about abandoning it. I didn't feel connected so I wasn't that curious on what happens next. This did get me motivated to read a biography and a memoir (if there is one) to find out more on Hedy Lamarr.

***I received an eARC from NETGALLEY***
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The Only Woman in the Room is a thought-provoking look into the life of scientist and actress Hedy Lamarr neé Kiesler.

I purposely called her a scientist before an actress (which is what she is more well-known for) as she was remarkably insightful and intelligent. She also dedicated significant effort to creating a system to help prevent the jamming of torpedo signals. For many years before that she enjoyed an avid interest in scientific and mechanical creations.

This is an historical fiction story based on a real person about whom not too much is known. Hedy was a brilliant woman who was under appreciated in a time when women’s contributions to science and business were ignored, belittled and disregarded. It was believed that a woman could not possibly come up with a solution to a major military problem that the brightest of men had yet to solve. This theme is clearly explored in the last third of the novel.

But why did Hedy feel the need to try to solve a major military defect? What motivated her to put her scientific abilities to use in such a way? The author ascribes a sense of survivor’s guilt to Hedy in that respect.  Another central theme throughout the story is Hedy’s belief that she’d overheard enough of Hitler’s plans for the Jewish population of Austria to have tried to warn more influential people and to have tried to help more people escape. She believed she only saved herself when she fled her abusive marriage and Austria. She believed she had to atone for the sin of protecting only for herself.

Mixed in with that conflict is the other motivating factor behind this intriguing woman: She also searched to be recognized as more than just a pretty face. She wasn’t just beautiful, she was breathtakingly gorgeous and as such was seen as an item to be coveted. Not many cared to find out about the heart, soul and mind underneath the lovely face.

Because these were the majors issues I picked out of the story, I felt a little cheated at the end of the tale. Yes, there are some limitations based on the fact that the narrative has to work with the context of real life events. However, the central conflicts are part of the fictional element. I do wish the story gave more detail as to if Hedy ever really found the absolution she sought or if she simply accepted her situation and society.

Overall, however, I really enjoyed this story. The Vienna setting and the Hollywood backdrop are both delightfully described. I could almost feel the crisp Austrian cold and could imagine myself engulfed by the Hollywood buzz. The author’s historical note at the end also adds a level of depth and provides a better understanding of the character of Hedy Lamarr.

Disclaimer: I voluntarily read and reviewed this book courtesy Sourcebooks and NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.
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In 1933 Hedy Kieslar is a famous Austrian actress, with her share of scandal, rumors, and lavish attention. With tension rising, her family must be careful about their Jewish heritage. The extravagant adorations of a well-connected arms dealer might be her family’s ticket to safety. But, his overwhelming control is hard for her to bear. At decadent parties, she starts to overhear Nazi plans and realizes that war is headed to Austria. 
This fictionalized account of the woman who became Hedy Lamarr is filled with facts, although some events seem to have been moved around to make the story flow. The portrayal of a smart, head-strong woman, in an impossible situation is entertaining. However, some parts of the story seem to be sped-along  to meet time-frames and to capture Hedy’s fascinating future as an American actress and scientist.
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Winter’s long days and even longer dark nights are a great time to dig into a good book, and this month’s Book Report has an historical novel and a memoir to enjoy.

Fans of historical fiction know Marie Benedict’s novels. They feature women who are not necessarily well-known, but who have been involved with famous men, Carnegie’s Maid and The Other Einstein among her most recent.

In her latest novel, The Only Woman in the Room, it is the woman herself who is the famous person. Actress Hedy Lamarr’s story is fictionalized here, and it is fascinating. 



  

Born in Vienna, young Hedy Keisler is becoming a recognized stage actress. When an older man, a known arms manufacturer, becomes infatuated with Hedy, her parents reluctantly encourage her to date him. He is an important man, well-connected to the government, and in 1930s Austria with the threat of Hitler looming and Hedy’s family being Jewish, to make an enemy of him could be dangerous.

Her husband is violent and controlling, and quick to anger. He uses Hedy as an accessory as he attempts to ingratiate himself to Hitler and his Nazi party. Hedy uses this to her advantage, sitting in meetings and eavesdropping on plans about the various arms that the Nazis are using in war.

When Hedy discovers that Hitler plans to eliminate the Jewish population not only in Germany, but also in Austria, she carefully plots her escape. After one unsuccessful attempt leaves her a prisoner in her own home, she escapes to America, where she works her way up in Hollywood.

She becomes a famous actress, but is haunted by what is going on in Europe. Hedy’s father encouraged her to study, and she was fascinated by science. When she was held prisoner, she pored over her husband’s technical arms books, learning much from them.

Hedy teamed up with a music composer to create a system for torpedoes to change frequencies, enabling them to bypass attempts to jam them. They worked endlessly for months, perfecting it and eventually getting a patent and submitting it to the government for use in war.

Hedy Lamarr’s role in this invention was relatively unknown until recently, and after reading The Only Woman in the Room, you’ll have an appreciation for her brains and work ethic, as well as her beauty and acting ability. Fans of Adriana Trigiani’s All the Stars in the Heavens will enjoy this one.
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I enjoyed the book and learned some interesting history about a fascinating, strong woman. Historical fiction is not my favorite genre, but I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys WWII fiction. Thank you for the ARC!
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An interesting piece of history about a woman who has worn many hats in her life.  It was a compelling read.
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I read this book on a whim. I saw it advertised at Barnes and Noble and thought it was interesting. I enjoyed the characters, the plot development and overall tone of the book. I would recommend to others.
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Are you looking for insight into Heddy Lamar, the famous actress from the 1930's and 1940's? I was which is why the premise of this book intrigued me. Heddy Lamar first caught my attention through her role in Blazing Saddles, a Mel Brooks comedy. Then she got mentioned in the past few years for her breakthrough achievement in frequency hopping of radio waves which makes cell phones and other devices possible. So when I read about The Only Woman in the Room, I was interested in seeing what Marie Benedict did with the story. The problem I have with this novelization over a straight biography is the need to express a message. I get the concept how guilty Heddy Lamar felt for not doing more to warn Austrian Jews easily, and then there is the whole issue of her invention not getting attention because she was a woman. But writing an issue novel always seems to be heavy handed and the ending of this book is just that. And unfortunately, nothing after 1942 is important to the story. So I will need to go out an find myself a biography to fill in all the gaps. Which I was likely to do anyway. Not a badly told tale, just not as good a tale as I hoped.
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Marie Benedict's The Only Woman in the Room is the story of Hedy Lamarr, a woman best known for her roles on the silver screen. Ms. Benedict looks deeper into Hedy's life, bringing us an engrossing tale of a woman who is both brilliant and beautiful.

Hedy Kieseler is a Jewish woman married to an Austrian arms dealer. She's well-known for her beauty, and manages to land a starring role in a feature film. Her fame, coupled with her husband's military connections, are enough to keep Hedy safe as anti-semitism sweeps across Europe.

Unfortunately, Hedy's marriage is not a happy one. Her husband is prone to fits of rage, and she is usually the target of these fits. She does her best to hide her abuse from the world, but she's desperate to find a way out. Slowly, she begins to devise a plan, and in 1937, she manages to flee to the United States.

Once she's out from under her husband's control, Hedy starts a new life for herself in Hollywood. She changes her name to Hedy Lamarr, and it doesn't take her long to become Hollywood's golden girl. She's finally safe, but what about the Jews she left behind?

What the world doesn't know is that Hedy was much more than a pretty face, and that behind her dazzling smile lurked a brilliant mind. Hedy had always been fascinated by science, and she decided to turn this fascination into a way to aid the war effort. She began developing a weapon powerful enough to stop Hitler's rise to power.

I don't know much about science, and my knowledge of how weapons are made is practically non-existent, so I wasn't sure this would be a book I'd enjoy. I was afraid it would be full of scientific details, but Ms. Benedict managed to keep me thoroughly engaged. We do learn a bit about the weapon Hedy develops, but the narrative isn't at all dry or boring. This is definitely a book that will appeal to science buffs, but it will be equally enjoyable to those who are more interested in Hedy Lamarr as a whole person rather than simply for her contribution to the field of science.

The story is broken up into two very distinct parts. The first half of the book focuses on Hedy's life in Austria, while the second illuminates her Hollywood successes and scientific study. Stories about World War II are of particular interest to me, as are books that are set in 1940's Hollywood, so I enjoyed both sections of the story equally. The author does a great job bringing the people and places she writes about to life for the reader, making this a book that was hard for me to put down.

It's clear Ms. Benedict did a great deal of research into Hedy's life before beginning to write her story. Not much seems to be known about Hedy's life in Austria, but the story the author tells here feels completely plausible. She remains true to Hedy's character, never creating situations or conflict that feel contrived.

Hedy Lamarr was a fascinating woman I knew almost nothing about before picking up this book. I'm so glad Ms. Benedict chose to tell her story, bringing her to the attention of today's readers. The world needs more stories like this one.

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Everyone knows that Hedy Lamarr was one of Hollywood’s most glamorous movie stars. Yet, Hedy Lamarr was more than just a pretty face. She was a brilliant woman whose greatest contribution was the invention of the spread spectrum technology. She was inducted posthumously into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. The Only Woman in the Room shows the difficulties Heady struggled with becoming a serious actress and an accomplished inventor in her own right. However, because of her beauty and that she is a woman, she is not taken seriously. Heady soon feels that she will never be recognized for her works and  will always face the stigma of being a dazzling movie star.

    I have heard of Hedy Lamarr. However, I did not know much about her life. I found Hedy’s story to be very fascinating. She was a woman ahead of her times. She made a contribution that we use today like Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth. Yet, throughout her life she never got the recognition and respect that she deserved. Her first husband controlled her every move. She got movie roles based on her looks rather than her talent and her invention was rejected by the US navy because of her gender. I also admired her compassion to save millions in WWII.  Hedy was a very sympathetic figure, and I wanted her to find her happiness.

    Overall, this novel is about a misunderstood woman who yearns to find her own freedom in life. Besides Hedy, I thought the other characters were very trite and clichéd. Most of the men in the novel were male chauvinists. Half of the novel was spent on Hedy’s relationship to her abusive and controlling husband that I thought sometimes dragged the plot. The writing was choppy and disrupted the flow of the novel. Despite these flaws, I thought this novel did an exemplary job in showing Hedy’s achievements. The Only Woman in the Room proves that Hedy’s tale is an inspiration for women. It encourages them not to give up on their dreams despite the obstacles.
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4.0 - watching Bombshell made me want to learn more; even though this was fictionalized, I still found it quite illuminating and added to her depth of character. This is the first Marie Benedict book that I’ve read, and now I want to go back and read her others.
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Hedy Lamarr—when you hear this name you think of the glamorous actress who commanded the silver screen. But she was much more than a pretty face or a talented actress. Raised by a father who appreciated her intelligence and encouraged her in all things, married to a man who was in bed with the Third Reich, and refugee from Austria right before her home country is taken over by Hitler, she had an incredible past that forged her future; helping her accomplish her greatest achievement of all.

The Only Woman in the Room is a wonderful story that depicts just how intelligent and inventive she was. She was a strong woman who stood up to movie executives most people feared and the U.S. military that rejected her ideas because she was a woman. The author knows her history well and mixes Hedy’s story amidst the outbreak of World War II, keeping the reader entertained and informed throughout. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys historical biographical fiction.
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This fictional account of the famous Heddy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) packs a hefty punch and makes you want to know more about the woman behind the movies and the science.  A stage actress in 1933 Vienna, Austria she is noticed by an Austrian arms dealer during a masterful performance.  Her parents agree that she can court him out of fear of the growing Nazi control in Austria, and in hopes that this man may be able to keep her safe.  The couple is soon married and unfortunately, once married there is little to keep her safe from her husband except escape.  After several years she does escape not only her abusive marriage but also Hitler’s growing power.  She makes her way to Hollywood where she becomes a famous actress and at the same time engages her brilliant scientific mind.  Together with composer George Antheil she develops a radio guidance system, known today as spread spectrum technology, that she hopes will aid the Allies during WWII.   Benedict’s ability to bring this historical figure to life will leave readers breathless and begging for more.  The tension as Lamarr, then Kiesler, navigates the dangers of her abusive marriage and the coming turmoil of WWII is palpable as is the relief felt when she finally makes her way to safety.  Then, there’s the outrage on her behalf as she navigates the common discrimination against women of that era.  An absolutely stunning book!
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Hedy Lamarr was a famous actress born in Austria who came to America and was a Hollywood sensation. Her famous movies were Samson and Delilah, Algiers, Lady of the Tropics (1939), Boom Town (1940), H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941), and White Cargo (1942). However, beneath her extremely attractive looks and actress facade, is an intelligent scientist who, along with her composer George Antheil, designed and invented a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes that used spread spectrum and frequency hopping technology to defeat the threat of jamming by the Axis powers.  Although the US Navy did not adopt the technology until the 1960s,  the principles of their work are incorporated into Bluetooth technology and are similar to methods used in legacy versions of CDMA and Wi-Fi-eventually became the foundation for the modern cell phone. This work led to their induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014. Unfortunately, in the 1940s, although World War Two presented a lot of employment opportunities to women in the defence industries etc., women were still not respected as they were viewed as unintelligent and that science was a field reserved only for men. No one took Hedy seriously at the time because of her profession, her gender and looks.  People thought women's place was in the home where they should concern themselves with trivial and inane activities like entertaining. Hedy escaped from Nazi controlled Austria as well as her abusive first marriage to wealthy arms dealer Friedrich Mandl, who was a very shady character from the start. He was too obsessive by sending Hedy dozens of rose varieties and expensive dates. Mandl was an Austrian military arms merchant and munitions manufacturer who was reputedly the third-richest man in Austria. She fell for his charming and fascinating personality, partly due to his immense financial wealth.  Her parents, both of Jewish descent, did not approve, due to Mandl's ties to Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini, and later, German Führer Adolf Hitler, but they could not stop the headstrong Lamarr. Hedy was infamously known in her role in the steamy film Ecstasy which was highly controversial at the time, because graphic sexuality wasn't openly discussed at the time, and she was trying to reclaim her falling acting position by successfully portraying Empress Elisabeth of Austria to the Viennese audience. Mandl had close social and business ties to the Italian government, selling munitions to the country, and although like Hedy, his own father was Jewish, had ties to the Nazi regime of Germany, as well. Lamarr wrote that the dictators of both countries attended lavish parties at the Mandl home. Lamarr accompanied Mandl to business meetings, where he conferred with scientists and other professionals involved in military technology. These conferences were her introduction to the field of applied science and nurtured her latent talent in science. Hedy escaped to England where she met Louis B. Mayer, head of MGM, who was scouting for talent in Europe.  Then Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler became the legendary Hedy Lamarr, American film sensation. During World War Two, Lamarr wanted to join the National Inventors Council, but was reportedly told by NIC member Charles F. Kettering and others that she could better help the war effort by using her celebrity status to sell war bonds. She participated in a war bond-selling campaign with a sailor named Eddie Rhodes. Rhodes was in the crowd at each Lamarr appearance, and she would call him up on stage. She would briefly flirt with him before asking the audience if she should give him a kiss. The crowd would say yes, to which Hedy would reply that she would if enough people bought war bonds. After enough bonds were purchased, she would kiss Rhodes and he would head back into the audience. Then they would head off to the next war bond rally. Unfortunately, National Inventors Council didn't take Lamarr's invention seriously at the time and it was technologically difficult to implement, and at that time the U.S. Navy was not receptive to considering inventions coming from outside the military. In 1962, (at the time of the Cuban missile crisis), an updated version of their design at last appeared on Navy ships.  I liked the ending quotations: "Time buckled and then folded back onto itself, back to the night that changed everything. That night set me on the path I stood upon today, one fraught with overwhelming guilt, the pursuit of redemption, and occasionally, unexpected joy. How many masks had I worn on my path, I wondered. Had I ever lowered one of my facades fully and braved my bare skin to the world? The closest I'd come was during my work with George, work that I'd been told was unacceptably "unfeminine". Work to which I'd refused to return after the navy's rejection, even when George begged me; I simply couldn't make myself that vulnerable again. Otherwise, I'd midwifed myself through multiple rebirths, donning a fresh persona with every new iteration, only to return to my original veneer again and again. Had I, in the end, become who they already thought I was? To everyone else, I was Hedy Lamarr, only a beautiful face and lissome body. I was never Hedy Kiesler, aspiring inventor, curious thinker, and Jew. Never the self I really was underneath the many role I'd played on-screen and off-screen.  Or had I used the world's perception of me as a disguise, a sort of smoke screen to distract them while I achieved my ends? Had I taken the persona to which I'd been relegated and made myself into a weapon against the Third Reich after all, just not the instrument of destruction I'd intended? I wondered if it even mattered what-or who-they thought I was, if I'd gotten my revenge against the European suppressors by funding the Allies tonight and perhaps, along with it, the redemption I'd sought. I had always been alone under my mask, the only woman in the room." Even after Hedy fled and lived safely in America, she felt guilty that she was safe and sound and that there are millions of people who'd perished by Nazi hands. Overall, this was a good novel. From the Author's note, "Perhaps if Hedy's society had viewed her not simply as a blindingly beautiful creature, but as a human being with a sharp mind capable of significant contributions, they might have learned that her interior life was more interesting and fruitful than her exterior. Her invention might have been accepted by the navy when she offered it, and who knows what impact that might have had on the war. If only people had been willing to look behind "the only woman in the room" to examine the person she was beneath, they might have seen a woman capable of greatness, and not only on the screen."
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